Black, white, and orange illustration of Esperanza standing in front of a building or structure

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Start Free Trial

What eight English words does Mamacita know in The House on Mango Street?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The three phrases (totaling eight words)—"He not here," "No speak English," and "Holy Smokes"—provide great insight into the ways in which Mamacita navigates her life in the United States. Mamacita says "He not here" as her only interaction with her landlord, to indicate to her landlord that her husband is not at home. Mamacita chooses to develop boundaries between herself and the English-speaking world. Mamacita's use of the phrase "No speak English" when interacted with by English speakers shows that Mamacita is not interested in learning or interacting in English. This is a strong display of her cultural preservation, particularly in a country where immigrants are often threatened and harassed for not speaking English. Mamacita's use of the phrase "holy smokes" indicates that her not speaking English is rooted not in lack of understanding, but in her ties to her Mexican tongue and culture. Conservative elements of English-speaking Americans are known to insist that immigrants stop speaking their native languages upon arrival to the United States. Mamacita's resolution to continue speaking Spanish is a testament to her strength.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The eight words (or more accurately, phrases) Mamacita knows are: He not here, No speak english, and holy smokes.

Mamacita says, he no here when the landlord comes which may indicate that her husband pays the rent and they are sometimes behind in rent.  No speak english is when anyone who doesn't speak Spanish tries to speak to her, which indicates that she doesn't have an interest in speaking to anyone who doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't want to learn English because she misses Mexico.  Holy smokes likely indicates that she could learn English if she wanted to because it's an idiom which is a difficult part to pick up in a language, but she doesn't want to. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial